The lack of the normal appearance of leadership from Washington is beginning to jar. While it is possible there is some kind of strategic instinct guiding President Trump’s behavior only he understands that makes sense of the chaotic behavior emanating from the White House, the appearance is all the other way. And in politics, appearance is often the most important thing. In fact, it is often the only important thing, which is the reason that “shaping the narrative” is the brutal team sport at which Washington politicos and their henchmen most excel.
This point midsummer is normally a quiet time in D.C., with the majority of politicians back home for vacation. But this year, as the New York Post pointed out last week, President Trump instead appears to be running a kind of “Survivor” reality show out of the Oval Office, with top aides publicly taking aim at each other. This image was imprinted onto public consciousness in indelible marker last week by way of a conversational rant delivered by Anthony Scaramucci, the now fired communications director, to Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker, who published it forthwith. This column, called “Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers,” immediately went viral.
Remember back in April of 2016, during the Republican primary, when Sen. Ted Cruz tried to warn the nation about the craziness of New York values? At the time, I was a big Ted Cruz supporter. Unfortunately, instead of any serious examination of the issue, there was only a “gotcha” reaction by Democrats in response in the form of virtue signaling, dead set on finding shades of antisemitism under every rock and stone and grain of sand, where there was none at all. In fact, since then, Ted Cruz has continued his outstanding and deeply informed support of Israel.
So, the warning went unheeded at the time. But now that President Trump has hired Anthony Scaramucci, another New Yorker, it looks like we have, indeed, doubled down on raw New York values. Trump is continuing his role as the chaos president in chief. And Scaramucci is perfectly happy to use a shocking profusion of profanity to discuss fellow members of the president’s senior staff. In a move that looks like amateur hour, Scaramucci later admitted that he thought his interview with Ryan Lizza was off the record. And that he would be careful not to repeat the error. Either Scaramucci did not utter the correct magic formula before he delivered his rant to Ryan Lizza, a member of the hostile press, so every part of it went on the record for posterity, including all the bits of male anatomy he used to describe his in-office rivals, or he intended for the entire shebang to go public to begin with as a warning to White House leakers.
In response to this, a report was leaked to Mike Allen at Axios.com 24 hours later that Trump loved Scaramucci’s remarks and only minded that he was now upstaged. The reaction is Trump at his most Trumpian.
And a few hours after that, Jonathan Swan at Axios.com reported that Scaramucci informed his associates that he was planning “to dramatically pare down his interactions with journalists.” Indeed, that appears to confirm that President Trump was bothered by his upstaging. And that Scaramucci knows that receiving that much attention is not the way to maintain a positive relationship with him. He, like the rest of us, had the example of presidential aide Steve Bannon to consider, a man who has stayed mum for months because the president did not like the level of buzz he was continuing to glean in the press, even if most of it was negative. Negative buzz is still ratings, after all. And this White House appears to be running on ratings.
In other news of President Trump, Fusion GPS, the company that published the notorious and ridiculous “spy” dossier on him, now looks to be implicated in colluding with Russia to smear his campaign. Lee Smith reports in Tablet Magazine that “[i]t’s one of the peculiar paradoxes of the media today that the firm that sparked the anti-Trump resistance, and fueled the patriotism of those newly awakened to the dangers of Russian interference in American political institutions, is working with companies intimately linked with Moscow.” The Russian narrative, planted last spring (or earlier), has been growing for more than a year straight. And, as yet, there is absolutely no harvest. I don’t expect there ever will be much of one.
Mara Schiffren, a Campus Watch Fellow, is a writer and functional medicine coach who lives in North Salem.